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NBA scouts weigh in on Gonzaga’s top draft prospects

Gonzaga’s Drew Timme, who averaged 2.3 assists per game, looks to pass around Baylor’s defense during the NCAA championship game on April 5 in Indianapolis.  (Associated Press)
Gonzaga’s Drew Timme, who averaged 2.3 assists per game, looks to pass around Baylor’s defense during the NCAA championship game on April 5 in Indianapolis. (Associated Press)

Jalen Suggs and Joel Ayayi are entering the NBA draft. Andrew Nembhard reportedly is returning to Gonzaga next season.

Aaron Cook hasn’t announced if he will use an extra year of eligibility available to winter sports athletes.

It appears Drew Timme is the last Zag facing a decision: Test the NBA waters, return to school or both. Timme has plenty of time to decide with a May 30 deadline to declare.

Timme’s game and how it would translate at the next level is a “unique case,” as one NBA scout put it. “It’s tough to project that one,” added a second scout.

We asked those two scouts to break down the games of Corey Kispert, Suggs, Ayayi, Nembhard and Timme as well as assess their pro prospects, whether it’s next season or down the road. The scouts, one on the West Coast and one on the East Coast, requested anonymity for obvious reasons.

Before getting to the evaluations, the scouts were asked how much influence the NCAA Tournament has on players rising or falling on draft boards.

Timme, for example, strung together games with 30, 22, 23 and 25 points – the 23-pointer against USC and projected top-three pick Evan Mobley – but struggled in the title-game loss to Baylor at both ends of the court.

Suggs averaged 18.7 points in the last three games and hit a winning 3-pointer from 40 feet against UCLA that ended one of best NCAA Tournament games in decades.

Kispert hit 10 3-pointers and scored 39 points in the first two games but wasn’t as sharp from distance over the last three games. Ayayi was solid in the first five games but was held in check by Baylor.

“The lights are the brightest and the stage is the biggest, but you do want to be careful about the guys that seem to come out of nowhere,” the West Coast scout said. “It should not replace a feeling you had coming into the tournament. It should be used as another ingredient.”

Timme finished as Gonzaga’s top scorer (19.0) and rebounder (7.0). He was fourth in assists (2.3).

“You look at him and think he’s on the lower end of the spectrum when it comes to NBA athleticism and speed, but he’s still producing at a high level,” one scout said. “What might help or hurt, he’s going to be looked at a lot like (Iowa’s) Luka Garza and however he adjusts to the NBA game, people are going to think in the same vein.”

The 6-foot-10 sophomore only attempted 21 3-pointers, but his craftiness and footwork generated an endless supply of post moves and paint points. He made 67.7% of his attempts inside the arc.

“You don’t really know if he can shoot,” one scout said. “He shows flashes midrange-wise and defensively he’s a liability. I think he would get a cup of coffee, but I think another year (at Gonzaga) would be good.”

Both scouts were impressed with Suggs and Kispert. Suggs is likely a top-five pick and Kispert is projected in the 10-20 range.

Suggs made nearly 59% of his attempts inside the arc but was streaky behind (33.7%). The 6-4 point guard averaged 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists.

“He’s a special competitor, big-time intangibles, tough and thrives in the biggest moments,” one scout said. “Skilled, savvy, creative, smart, bulldog of a defender, extremely talented as a point guard that can score the ball. If that (3-point accuracy) is the biggest issue – he has to tighten up his ballhandling and do a better job in pick-and-roll – at a certain point you’re just nitpicking.”

“Love the kid,” the second scout said. “Some guys are so talented you sometimes have to worry about their effort. With him, you know he’s going to bring it. He’s special and I expect him to continue to be special.”

The 6-7 Kispert was a unanimous first-team All-American, the West Coast Conference Player of the Year and one of the best leaders in program history.

He finished just behind Timme in scoring (18.6).

“I can see him in the lottery,” one scout said. “He had more freedom this year to take guys off the dribble, come off pindowns and not just being a shooter. His defense is what it is, but he competes and gives effort and he’s a willing ball mover. Really good motor.”

Kispert’s shooting percentages were off the charts (62.8% inside the arc, 44% on 3s, 87.8% at the free-throw line). He torched Virginia for nine 3-pointers and 32 points.

“He does the one thing (3-point shooting) that everybody wants and you dig into him as a person and he becomes that much more attractive,” the second scout said. “The obvious name he’s compared with is Joe Harris. I do think it fits, but I think Corey might be further along at the same stage.

“His lateral speed, that’s something to be mindful of, but I would bet on someone like Corey to figure it out.”

Ayayi improved nearly across the board from his sophomore to junior year. The 6-5 guard made an impressive 68.3% inside the arc (59.5% in 2020) and 38.9% on 3s (34.5%). He averaged 12 points (10.6) and 6.9 boards (6.3).

“Like his versatility,” the East Coast scout said. “He’s one of those guys that is just solid at a lot of different things, but not a master of one. His shot came along. He can play some with the ball, but not a point guard. Definitely has a thin frame that he’s going to have to work on.”

Ayayi is generally projected as a second-round selection.

“I don’t know if there’s a better rebounding guard in college basketball last year,” the West Coast scout said. “Where he is now versus even last year is remarkable improvement. He doesn’t need the shine, doesn’t need the ball to make a play, but you look at the end of the game and he has 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists.

“He could be a guy that has a 10-plus-year career because he does all the little things. He’ll need to work on his shot from range. He just needs a fair chance.”

Nembhard figures to direct the offense next season and he’s already demonstrated he can handle the job. He wasn’t a huge scorer (9.2) but he was effective inside the arc (60.2%). He ranked sixth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.59).

“You can see his IQ bursting through his actions on the court,” one scout said. “Plays the right way, smart guy, unselfish, all the qualities you want a lead guard to have. He’ll need to continue working on the consistency from range (32.3% on 3s).”

Nembhard scored 19 points in Gonzaga’s narrow win over West Virginia and finished with 11 points and eight assists in the overtime victory against UCLA.

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